It is rare that my blog gets scoops of any sort – let alone a scoop that saw me travel to the future, speak openly to the long-serving Chief Exec of the ICC, and happen to jot down everything he said, word for word. Here’s the transcript:
This is your third World Cup as ICC chief executive. What kind of tournament do you foresee?
An exciting one. For two reasons. There are at least two teams that have a realistic chance of even winning the tournament if everything goes their way. This is the first time two teams have a reasonable chance. Secondly, the playing conditions that we have for ODI cricket at the moment have led to a far more attacking game, certainly from a batting point of view with no fielders allowed outside the circle. But also from a bowling and captaincy point of view, with the new ball for each over – the days where bowlers and captains could rely on containment and trying to keep the batsmen quiet have gone. The only way that is possible now is to take wickets. And that has lead to far more attacking captaincy and an attacking style of bowling, manipulating cyber systems and using hacked DRS/umpire Steve Davis to take wickets, rather than preserving runs.
But once again the structure of the World Cup has generated a debate. Was there any other alternative?
After the 2019 World Cup people were of the view that the structure worked well and there was no reason to change it in the short term and to give it another go: instead we figured that the best way was 8 teams, with one group of 8, and then all 8 making the quarter-finals. The focus has been to make sure all matches are as competitive as possible. And, hence, for the Full Members like the West Indies and Bangladesh that have qualified for this event – we have spent a lot of time and a lot of money in putting together worthwhile preparation programmes for those teams to give them every chance of giving a good account of themselves at the World Cup.
Do you think there will ever be an “ideal” World Cup, or are there too many conflicting views/demands?
The fact that the ICC Board has recently created the opportunity for the West Indies, New Zealand and Bangladesh to progress through the World Cricket League ranks, get to the World Cricket Championships and then progress effectively into the ODI FTP and therefore qualify for the 2023 World Cup has allowed us to move to a eight-team event. The aim is to make the major events as competitive as possible. Every match should be very competitive and having eight teams at the 2023 World Cup will make sure that will be the case.
On the other hand, shrinking a premier event to eight teams – is that not going against the ICC’s own policy on development of the game?
It would if we were definitively precluding the rubbish Full Members like the West Indies and Bangladesh from qualifying or finding a route directly in to compete with the good Full Members in bilateral cricket. But by creating that pathway it has enabled us to kill two birds with one stone. Firstly, it has expanded the opportunities for the rubbish Full Members to play at the highest level through bilateral series. Secondly, the World Cup itself, the premium event, without exception should be played between teams that are evenly matched and competitive.
Why then does a relegation rule only apply to the rubbish Full Member teams and not if a good Full Member ended up in the last place in the ODI rankings?
It is a step-by-step process. The governance structure of the ICC is such that we have got good Full Members, a few rubbish Full Members (West Indies and Bangladesh), and obviously ODI members – I can’t remember who these are any more. The reason that there are good Full Members is because they have a cricket economy as cricket-playing countries. There has been significant investment in those countries. So it makes sense to allow them to continue play each other bilaterally. Proper promotion and relegation [of the good Full Members] might be a step for the future, but at this stage it is too early to contemplate that.
How can the ICC ensure that the two useless Full Member teams get sufficient fixtures in order to guarantee the credibility of the new rankings structure?
We will do our best to facilitate those fixtures. Part of the strategy that we want to follow going forward is, ‘Let us give the West Indies and Bangladesh the opportunity to help themselves.’ It is not all about the ICC handing them everything on a plate. Yes, we will be in a position with the new funding model to allocate them a lot more money than they were previously getting from the ICC. But having got those funds it is for them to help themselves.
Will the next World Cup really be any different from the Champions Trophy – eight teams compared to eight?
The Champions Trophy, the second major event in the ODI format, is much shorter, played over a two-to-three-week period. The World Cup, with the one group of 8, followed by quarter finals with all 8, is longer. Effectively it is the top eight teams playing. What it does allow us to do is create more context for the rankings. It is just as easy to qualify for a long eight-team tournament as a short eight-team tournament, especially given the levels of performance of the West Indies and Bangladesh recently.